I am lying in the bed of the rehabilitation hospital to which I’ve been transferred from a trauma center one day ago. I was in the trauma center for seven days. The ten hour long surgery I received there has stabilized my spine by placing metal rods all the way down it. Yesterday my sister said the rehabilitation staff might let her stay the night soon, so I feel a glimmer of hope that I won’t be alone here. For some reason being alone here doesn’t feel good, just as feeling alone at the trauma center didn’t feel good either.
Yesterday morning the physical and occupational therapists I had been assigned came to my room to introduce themselves. They explained that they would get me functional from a wheelchair; and those were not the words I wanted to hear. I cried a lot after they left. I had realized then that I would not walk again. However, this will be the only time I will cry for a very long time.
As I lay in this bed this night, there’s a flicker of light coming from the bathroom. I look at the shadow hitting the pink wall, as I listen to the patient next to me groan in discomfort. I shed a tear as I think, “now what?”
I can’t move and the stitches that run down my back hurt, while the bandages placed all over my torso pinch. Throughout this ordeal I have been prodded, poked, cut open, sewn back up, and all the while I have been in this fog, just letting them get on with it. I can only stop and wonder, who would have thought that something like a paralysis could change one’s life so much? My mind drifts to my infant son, who was only three weeks old at the time of my injury. He is now close to a month and half years old while at home with my three-year-old daughter; all I want to do is see them.
The next morning I wake up to the sound of someone walking in my room. As the female in scrubs begins to close the curtain around me, she introduces herself as the nurse that will get me ready each morning.
I watch intently as she proceeds to the bathroom. I hear her turn on the faucet. She returns with a bowl and washcloth. When she places them on the table next to me, I observe as she reaches over to the drawer next to me. She pulls out a bag and tells me it contains an intermittent catheter. She then begins to show me how it would be inserted in me to relieve my bladder. I cannot help but notice how gentle and thorough she is in her care of me. She explains she has to check my skin each day for breakdown. She puts lotion over my skin and tells me massaging this into my skin keeps it healthy.
After I am dressed into my sweat pants and t-shirt, she picks up the TSO jacket from the chair behind her. Placing the back underneath me she fastens the top tightly together on each side of me. She is careful to make sure the t-shirt I am wearing is straight and has no ridges. She continues to explain that this could cause pressure or discomfort to my skin. Now she presses the button on the remote control attached to my bed so that I am now sitting up.
I remember the time when I was being measured for this piece of armor at the trauma center. The burly man that was fitting me had stated I would not be able to be in an upright position unless the jacket is on.
The heavy plastic looks so shiny in its cream color that it makes the tough plastic look like ivory. It is to give me some form of mobility until my broken back fuses against the rods all down my spine.
I feel relief once again, that I am in good hands. The last time I had this feeling was when the orthopedic surgeon introduced himself as the physician that would oversee my care while I was in the trauma center. He was also the physician that did the surgery that would stabilize my back.
Another lady enters the room. She is dressed in white scrubs with pretty pink flowers all over them. She brings over a tray and places it on my table that is now in front of me. I look astonished at the array of food. It has everything from cereal, to eggs, bacon, fruit and milk. I ask if I can have a cup of coffee. My nurse looks with disapproval, and says only one, because now I have to learn to limit my fluids.
So, I devour that single cup of coffee as I peer at the rest of the food. I pick at the fruit. I have never been a big eater. I am still only barely a hundred pounds in my late twenties. Again, I notice the nurse look at me.
This time she smiles a little and says, “Eat what you can. The therapists will tell you to eat the protein if you can’t eat anything else."
What seemed most profound to me during this time was that I didn’t just lose the ability to use my legs, but for some reason my voice left too. I couldn’t seem to ask what was happening to me. I mean, I have watched television programs and read articles that discuss others as they have broken a part of their body, or have some sort of disability. Yet, at this moment in time, I couldn’t even understand that.
Instead, I can see and feel this sense of emptiness. To be even more descriptive of my feelings at that time, the word that comes to mind the most is, nothingness.
Nothing around me was normal. I’ve washed my body before; never had I thought to check for sores, scratches or bruises. I’ve also put cream on my body before, but again I never worried about massaging it in well and making sure that every crevice, including behind my kneecaps, was clear of irritation.
It made me consider that I was no different than the infant I had at home. He couldn’t walk either. He also required another person to help bathe him and clothe him. In addition, I had to make sure that he too had nothing that would cause irritation to his skin from the moment he was born.
My nurse pushes a black rental wheelchair to the side of my bed, lifts me up cradle style, and places me in it. She tells me to wheel myself out of the room and go down in the elevator to the physical therapist that is waiting for me. I am all of a sudden nervous as I look down at this big piece of black apparatus. I feel as though I am in the twilight zone, and wonder when someone is going to snap me out of this bad dream.
I push the wheels of this big clunky machine slowly out of the room and towards the elevator. As I reach the elevator I notice that the button is higher than me. I move forward to be closer and press it, all the while noticing how my kneecaps are near to touching the wall underneath. When I push the wheels inside the elevator I feel a little lift under my chair. So, I look down behind me wondering what that was, and I realize I’ve just wheeled over a lip.
I think, “How odd that I would feel such a small thing in something so big?”
The elevator doors close and I look in this blank blue space feeling very short, but also feeling lost. I wonder when I will see my family again, especially my children?
I arrive at the gym where my therapist starts to go over range of motion and other exercises with me. I’m also scanning the room. I see a banner on a wall far back by a window, it reads, “God, I pray for Perseverance and Endurance.”
At that point I am no longer hearing the therapist, but understand for the first time what I am doing here. This is the start of my journey to independence. I feel the choking of my throat, but I don’t cry.
“No, I won’t let this defeat me," I think, “I will be strong and I will go home to my children. Most of all, I will be the mother I dreamt of being, and know they deserve.”